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Friday, October 9, 2015, 09:54

HK’s affair with art blossoms

By KARL WILSON in Sydney

Last year’s Hong Kong edition of Art Basel featured 245 galleries from 39 countries and attracted more than 65,000 artists, collectors, gallerists, museum directors, curators and art enthusiasts.

This year Art Basel Hong Kong, held from March 15 to 17 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, featured 233 international galleries. The annual fair continues to emphasize regional offerings with 50 percent of the galleries selected from Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, the Chinese mainland and some in Southeast Asia.

Maree Di Pasquale, co-director of Art Central, one of Hong Kong’s new contemporary art fairs, also weighed in on why Hong Kong has become the art hub of Asia.

Among the reasons she cited are the zero tax on the import and export of art, its geographical proximity to the mainland and its infrastructure.

Speaking to China Daily Asia Weekly, she added: “It is the gateway between East and West. All major cities within the region are within a five-hour aircraft trip, English is widely spoken and it is an easy place to do business.”

The art scene in Hong Kong has changed “a great deal” over the last decade, she said.

“Not only do you have international galleries opening in Hong Kong, but you also have the major auction houses here and Art Basel, which has elevated the art scene for artists and galleries not just in Hong Kong but around the region.”

But for Swiss art dealer Dominique Perregaux, who opened a gallery in Hong Kong a decade ago, the city’s cultural scene has not changed.

“Hong Kong has just become an art trading hub,” he told The Australian Financial Review.

“Once a year, Art Basel brings in the names you would never otherwise get to see. It’s very important to see those works in Hong Kong, but in terms of intrinsic culture, nothing much has changed.”

The same can be said of the art infrastructure.

Following the exit of curator Tobias Berger, Hong Kong’s new visual culture museum M+, now under construction in the West Kowloon Cultural District, has seen its opening date put back until the latter part of 2019, two years later than originally planned.

The $2.8 billion cultural project of the city government has been at the center of political infighting.

The museum head, Lars Nittve, has said that it is the most difficult project that he has ever worked on but that at the end of it all, Hong Kong will have a cultural institution to rival the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Nittve, founding director of the Tate Modern, a modern art gallery in London, is no stranger to new museums. But even he said that starting a collection from scratch was “rather unusual”.

“The Tate Modern was born out of the Tate Gallery, so it has a history of over 100 years,” he told The New York Times last year.

“Most museums, whether private or public, start with some sort of collection, something from an original donor.”

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, Adeline Ooi, Asia director of Art Basel, said: “Hong Kong has become recognized very much as the international Asian art hub.

“Maybe 10 years ago it wasn’t the case, but now this is very pronounced,” the Malaysian-born Ooi said, adding the “speculative wave” of art buying has come down in recent years.

“I think the speculators have come and gone with the boom and bust, but there will always be speculators.

“It has evened out a little bit. The collectors who were there then are here today — they’re still buying. But at the same time we are getting a whole new group of collectors who are taking an interest now,” she said.

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